EU urges easing of hydrocarbons restrictions

EU urges easing of hydrocarbons restrictions

Standards, codes and legislation must be adapted to encourage the wider rollout of hydrocarbons as HFC alternatives, argues an upcoming European Commission report.

Regulation governing hydrocarbons must be adapted to encourage wider rollout of hydrocarbons for refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump applications, according to a draft European Commission report to be published under the EU’s F-Gas Regulation on phasing down HFC use.

Local building codes and fire regulations, as well as transport and storage-related codes, can “severely restrict” the use of flammable refrigerants in many EU countries, the report declares.

National decrees in Italy, France and Spain “severely restrict the use of flammable refrigerants for air conditioning equipment in certain types of public access buildings,” the draft further states. Moreover, “these requirements go well beyond the rules permitting such use by European and international standards,” it adds.

Some national regulations simply ban flammable refrigerants in certain applications. Beyond that, the Commission report identifies the following specific barriers for hydrocarbons as requiring attention:

  • European standards “unnecessarily restrict charge sizes beyond what is needed to guarantee safe use of the equipment”. Charge size limits for human comfort cooling and belowground applications in particular are “over-restrictive”.
  • Risk minimisation approaches in system design and use are not sufficiently considered for all flammable refrigerants to determine safe charge size.
  • Standards tend to be updated only at intervals of five years or more, “thus making the necessary changes in a timely manner is a real challenge”.
  • European policymakers and companies can only partly influence the outcome of product safety standards like EN 60335-2-40 (governing electrical heat pumps, air conditioners and dehumidifiers) and EN 60335-2-89 (governing commercial refrigeration appliances) because they are based on IEC standards set at global level.
  • SMEs find it difficult to allocate resources to participating in standard-setting processes and “only a few experts on hydrocarbons” are currently involved in them.
  • Perception of risk differs from actual risk. End users may be reluctant to install flammable refrigerants and manufacturers may be wary of liability laws and public perception. Also, “the issue of risk is generally divisive as it can be used to promote the commercial interests of one technology versus another”.

The Commission report calls on European standardisation bodies CEN and CENELEC to update standards at EU level and invites companies to contribute by collecting evidence enabling better risk minimisation approaches for all flammable refrigerants.

It encourages EU countries with restrictive national codes, standards or legislation, “to consider a review in light of technical developments that would allow the safe use of alternative refrigerants“.

The Commission report urges European standards organisations to take a technology-neutral and consistent approach to updating standards, citing a particular need “to maximise charge sizes without compromising safety, as well as allowing a more general use of risk management approaches for all refrigerants”.

The EU executive will formally publish the draft report by 1 January 2017.